What is it with the websites of most, if not all, members of parliament? They’re shockingly bad.
And it wouldn’t take much to make them a little better. Here’s a few things they should add:
Most MPs have a twee little form somewhere on their website that allows users to email them. Others just list their email (or constituency/office) addresses.
Did Facebook not happen? Was Twitter a dream? Allow users to comment on your website. And comment back. In fact, make this your home page and actually put the public at the heart of your presence online.
And don’t forget to comment back. And maybe you could add a little rating system so users can let you know what they think of your feedback and the outcomes you’ve got for them - positive, negative or neutral.
2. Live updates and real-time feedback
It’s a shame that a lot of MP websites have just a description of where they are from, who they represent and tell us a little fact about them that makes us feel like they could be human.
Some have cleverly put a news section in.
Forget that. People have become accustomed to receiving updates in 140 characters or less. So draw your Twitter stream (wait, you’re not on Twitter yet?) into your website. Or create your own micro-update section where you can post things like: ‘Got an hour left til the big vote on something that really effects you’ and, better still, as questions: ‘How would you vote?’, ‘What do you think?’ - can it really hurt that much?
3. Expense claims
Because that was a big thing a few years back and a few MPs half-heartedly tried to show they were open about them by publishing the details in a spreadsheet on their website.
Does any member of the general public download spreadsheets and and fully understand them? I generally don’t.
Make expense claims a major section of the site with each claim getting a brief description, amount and why you are spending taxpayer money. Maybe even open it up to user comments - because, like it or not, we all have comments to make.
Student newspapers should go digital first. Or maybe even digital only. And here’s three good reasons why.
The importance of these reasons will differ from institution to institution so, though they are numbered, they are in no particular order. Promise (though ‘1’ is bound to be top priority for those footing the bill).
It seems to me that the banking sector is missing a trick in the digital space. One which would allow it to look more responsible for its younger customers whilst riding the wave of social media and gamification to engage them in spending and saving.
Using social apps like Foursquare, users can check in to locations and gain points - becoming the mayor of places they frequent and unlocking badges. This economy is universally understood.
The economy? Not so much.
So it makes sense to do what banks do best and capitalise on this wave of enthusiasm and understanding. Especially as banks already reward you with interest for saving money.
Help younger users understand the budgeting process by allowing them to manage their account through Facebook and mobile apps - most banks now have the former anyway.
Let us unlock badges for saving. Let us build up interest and accrue points. Let users model their future financial decisions and see possible outcomes before they make them - how much money will I have at the end of January if I save £100 a month but can’t afford to in July?
Make banking fun, educational and useful to people. It might just work.
Local newspapers probably aren’t going to do very well in the coming years if they keep thinking of themselves as local newspapers and not local media.
And that should be a little bit liberating, because what you can do digitally is far less limited than what you can in print - but this isn’t a web vs print idea.
In fact, as local media start to think of themselves as such, the services they can provide to locals are fare more varied.
When I leave London for home up north, I know I can’t use public transport. I don’t know which buses go where - apart from maybe two routes.
I can look on Google, but that’s huge. It covers the whole earth, how can they stay on top of the changes? How can I trust they’ve got the most up-to-date information on data on my little northern town?
Enter local media. If I know there’s an organisation that can help me navigate a local area - whether that be its news, its traffic, the routes its public transport takes, good places to eat, dentists to avoid, etc - trust in the information it provides will come more easily than it does in an app that crowdsources information and opinion from Twitter or Wikipedia.
Local newspapers, or other local news outlets, should offer the full package. Team up, merge, collaborate and tell me how to get in to town from where I’m currently standing.
Facebook is one of the most popular social networking sites known to man - just a few hundred million short of a billion. Why? Because it turns people into digital objects.
And maybe, it can be argued, they treat them as such too. But we won’t get into that.
But what is interesting is that when people become digital objects, more things are possible.
Objects can be tracked and have data assigned to them. They can be attached to other objects and other objects can be attached to them.
Think of fan pages, Facebook groups and your Facebook ‘friends’. They’re all other objects; separate from you but somehow attached.
And looking through these different interactions between objects and analysing their relationships should be a priority for any person, business or otherwise to better understand how they can get the most out of the social web.
Have you ever seen the movie Crash? Sandra Bullock is angry all the time. Don Cheadle is eternally conflicted and Ryan Phillipe kills a man.
The point is, it’s a film about lots of different people who are brought together by events. Imagine them as lonely planets that all have the fact that they can see the sun in common - they don’t all see it at the same time but they all can.
How does this impact the world of business? Well, people are generally the same. Individuals who travel through life, define themselves and find friends based on whether they can see the sun at the same time as us.
Maybe we love our pets and post pictures of them on Facebook all the time - an amazing opportunity for pet stores and vets - or maybe we enjoy finding new music, which we then claim to hate when everyone else discovers it - great opportunity for unsigned acts and independent venues.
Whatever the ‘sun’ may be for different people, there’s always an opportunity to sell them your sunglasses if you spend a little time covering them with your sunbrella. And they might even recommend them to their friends too if you stand by them.
The moral to this story? Find your planets and turn them into a little hyperlocal galaxy - even if geographically they’re light-years apart, technology can help you build one of those cool bridges off Thor.
Living in the Cloud is great.
There’s nothing physical so nothing is wasted. The production and distribution of everything is cheaper. No wonder businesses love it.
But what’s in it for the consumer? eBooks can be bought faster, sometimes cheaper and take up less space than their physical counterparts.
But if you hate the book or the CD, software or app, you’re stuck with it.
You can’t sell it on or trade it in. You can’t even lend it to a friend or give it to a charity shop - unless you fancy handing over your whole device.
The solution? A second-tier of ‘app store’ that allows users who want to recoup some, if not all, of their losses to re-sell their digital products to other users.
But maybe then we’d have to simulate depreciation - delete a page from our ebooks, put a scratch effect into our mp3s, scuff the corner of the app icon - to ensure the full second-hand experience is digitally realised.
I’ve recently started to read more newspapers. And I know more.
What’s missing from the internet that is apparent in printed product is the passive selection of what we read: we might not think we have an interest in something but, because it’s there, we read it and learn more about it.
When we’re online, we tend to actively select what we think we’ll find interesting.
Perhaps, to encourage us into passive selection, news websites should operate in two ways. One encouraging us to move through its headlines in an analogue, linear way like we do a physical newspaper and the other for the active selector. Maybe offering more content or removing/reducing paywalls if we take the longer route.
Could it work?